Art and the City

Artist Profile: Karen Cohen

Cohen layered images taken in the back canal-ways of Provence to obtain the final print, a painterly rendition called “Me Rencontrer Ici” (Meet Me Here).

It is a statement on vision – what you think you see and what you want to see. Altered realities lift you from the mundane, into a sphere of suggestions, a neither/nor universe.

Karen Cohen digitally layers photographic images to create a new suggestion of what reality could be … a daydream, maybe a reach for a better world. With “Me Rencontrer Ici,” she “layered over six images” to obtain the final print. The landscaped canal-way in Provence takes on a painted appearance and a timeless quality.

Karen also has the street photographer’s eye for the ordinary scene that provides insights into a larger social phenomenon. “Lunar Eclipse,” shot through a tattoo parlor’s window, offers a well-structured composition and suggests not so much the waning moon as the waxing public acceptance of body art.

Karen enrolled in the professional photography course at the Germain School of Photography in New York, right out of high school. That turned into decades behind the lens, including portrait, landscape, architectural and fine art photography. “Weddings and studio work paid well,” but her heart was in the punk rock scene then alive in the city.

Cohen snapped this photo from outside of a tattoo-shop window, before the man inside moved. “Being a former rock and roll concert photographer, I learned to compose and snap photos quickly. Things can change in the blink of an eye.”

The press pass for K.B. Shoots got her into the hottest clubs and an inside look at the whole riotous spectacle as a photojournalist for the Aquarian weekly magazine. The magazine was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s library/archives in 2012.

Over the years, she processed and printed every shot in her basement darkroom, but Karen has since fled the chemical-saturated closet for digital development and the ability to “create surreal images that exist only in the imagination.”

Since moving to Washington, Karen has become co-chair of the Capitol Hill Art League. She organizes events and exhibits for the Hill’s Corner Store, and volunteers at the Hill Center.

Karen currently has a solo exhibit of photographs, “Here, There and Everywhere,” at the Hill Center, and “Spring Comes” at the Corner Store.

Jim Magner’s Thoughts on Art
We have evolved socially from plain ol’ everyday stark reality into a technological fantasy world where substance is inference, where matter is insinuated. It is like living in a surrealist manifesto that speaks of the omnipotence of the dream – a play of thought by which we reach a superior reality. Really? Our current reality may be superior, or not. Is it? We don’t know.

If I go to a movie, or just watch the news, I find myself in that surrealist world, floating in a dreamscape of Yves Tanguy, French painter of fantasies. He was known for his silver-blue pause between day and night, in which glistening, pearl-like forms cast long black shadows into deep space. Objects on the edge of identity sail into that shapeless state of mind and look for explanations.

Ours is a world of alternating peace and turmoil, where beautiful, hypnotizing lights, words or images can lift us above the corporeal, but where shadowy humans can suddenly become deadly and the whole illusion can plummet. Crash. But then we seek even more invented optimism and illusionary fulfillment, hampered, of course, by bitter squabbles over what “fulfillment” actually is.

Karen Cohen layers digital images in Photoshop to get the desired effects, as shown in her West Virginia cabin photograph “Take Me Home,” which won second place in the Capitol Hill Art League’s “Home” juried exhibit, March 2019.

So, what’s an artist to do? Escape into whatever beauty is left in the world? Search for the best in human inventions and appearances? Reach for altered realities … maybe superior ones? Abandon any suggestion of “representation” to explore color and form and avoid reality altogether? Choose a social or political cause and throw whatever weight art may have behind it? Or maybe abandon traditional art altogether and glory in the omnipotence of a concept, a dream, or in some cases, a scheme?

Karen Cohen alternates between stark truth – when it exposes itself – and an altered reality, where images and ideas come to play and reach for a better world.

At the Galleries
“By Design”
Capitol Hill Art League
545 Seventh St. SE
April 6-May 8
Reception: Sat., April 6, 5-7 p.m.
This is the Capitol Hill Art League’s annual regional juried show. The emphasis is on the traditional fundamentals of design, which may include focal points, perspective, repeating motifs, distribution of lines and forms on the surface and the balance and distribution of color. The juror is Claude L. Elliott, an art curator and consultant. He will comment on his selections at the reception and present cash awards for best in show, merit awards and two honorable mentions.

Hill Center
921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE
March 7-April 28
Opening reception: Wed., March 13, 6:30-8:30 p.m.
This is a beautiful show. Over 90 artists have been selected by the juror, Carole Ottesen, to display the inexhaustible ways to express the beauty, joy and mystery of trees of every variety. The paintings, photos, drawings and prints all come together to sing in one voice to those lovely creatures. The show is co-sponsored by the Capitol Hill Art League.

Karen Cohen (see Artist Profile) has a terrific solo photo exhibit, “Here, There and Everywhere,” in the Elizabeth Haynes Room.

Showing concurrently is “Collaborators: Dana Ellyn & Matt Sesow.” I have been writing for years about the exploration of the meaning of art and politics, animals and life by Dana and Matt in their own individual approaches and techniques. Here, they are also on a joyride together, on the same canvas, through the outer reaches of emotional perception. That’s the only way I can describe it – you have to stand there and feel it. Together and individually they have reached audiences around the country and around the world in such places as the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore and, currently, the St. Petersburg Museum of Art in Russia.

“Spring Comes”
Corner Store Arts
900 South Carolina Ave. SE
April 1-May 9
Reception: April 13, 3-5 p.m.
This group art exhibit showcases local DC-area artists Kimberley Bursic, Alex Tolstoy, Joyce McCarten, Janet Seifert, Rosabel Goodman, Heike Gramkow and Karen Cohen.